Alan Ayckbourn

Dread and laughter in ‘Leonard Cohen’ and ‘Taking Steps’

In review: Jerry Mouawad tips his hat to Richard Foreman and freedom at Imago; Alan Ayckbourn's classic farce steps up at Lakewood

Leonard Cohen Is Dead

On a night in 1995, Jerry Mouawad writes in background notes for his new Imago Theatre play Leonard Cohen Is Dead, he found himself sitting in the Ontological-Hysteric Theatre in New York, watching a play called I’ve Got the Shakes, by Richard Foreman, a writer he knew nothing about.

“This single experience changed my view of theater and set me on a new artistic course,” Mouawad continues. “… That night, in 1995, I didn’t understand a thing about I’ve Got the Shakes yet I was spellbound. Here was theater with climaxes and resolutions, but with no recognizable story or plot. While others might be unsettled by such a play (which drifted in and out of my conscious and subconscious) – I found it freed me. Freed me from what I thought theater was to behave like. I found much joy and humor in this abandon. I was entranced in Foreman’s universe of play. A universe that existed only for that play.”

“Leonard Cohen Is dead”: trapped in a cheap hotel. Photo courtesy Imago Theatre

In truth, it wasn’t a huge stretch from the playfulness of Foreman’s faux-philosophical exercises in style and form to the playfulness that was already central to Mouawad’s witty mime-based mask-and-creature shows such as the beloved Frogz that he had been creating for years at Imago with his partner Carol Triffle. What his Foreman encounter seems to have opened for Mouawad is a doorway to a more strictly adult playfulness, one that uses spoken language extensively, but more for musical and suggestive purposes than narrative meaning. The dialogue, elliptical and largely shorn of clarity and connection, becomes simply part of the dance.